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Tuesday, 8 November 1983
Page: 2363

Mr HOWARD —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Why was his Government unrepresented at last night's overflow education meeting in Sydney? Is it a fact that Senator Ryan declined to send a representative on her behalf? Is it also a fact that the Prime Minister was approached with a view to a representative of the Government attending, but without avail? Why is this Government so indifferent to the genuine concern of hundreds of thousands of Australian parents who want freedom of choice in education? Lastly, why did the Prime Minister leave it to Ron Mulock, the New South Wales Minister for Education, to carry the can last night for Senator Ryan's misguided policies?

Mr HAWKE —I am informed by Senator Ryan that the circumstances of the calling of the meeting and the timing of her invitation were in terms where those organising the meeting knew it was impossible for her to be there. Secondly, I am not aware of any invitation to me personally. I am not saying that something may not have been in the system; I am not aware of any approach to me. Let me get to the substance of the question by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. It is a fact that the meeting was organised by a coalition of two forces-a group of people, on the one hand, who have some quite misguided interpretation of the effect of the Government's education policy in regard to the Catholic education system and, on the other hand, a group of people representing the 41 most privileged and elite schools in this country.

This Government makes no apology for the substance, thrust and direction of its education policy. This policy involved a substantial real increase in the allocation of funds in 1983-84. It involved a new direction in that our education policy and the allocation of funds under it will be according to need. In the event that has meant that within the Catholic education system, for instance, there will be a substantial improvement in the position of the poorest parish schools which deserve assistance and will get it.

Our policy towards the 41 most privileged schools in this country is based on the belief-to which I firmly adhere, and which this Government is proud of-that where limited funds are available for education and for the other great calls upon the resources of this Government it is appropriate, fair, equitable and, in the long term, most efficient that those funds should be given preference in direction to the poorer schools in this country. This is not a system, a concept , or a program for which we apologise. We are proud of it. Most importantly, I assure the Opposition that the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, and the public and the private education systems, thoroughly approve of the Government's system, unlike the miserable criteria of the Opposition which seeks to get some electoral advantage.